It’s difficult for me to remember sometimes that clients are not in the headspace of everything we SEOs practice and preach. So when posed with the question “how many times should this keyword be on the page?”, I default to some variation of the same answer:
“When creating content, be mindful you are writing for humans as well as machines. Focus on the topic, don’t feel bound to writing the keyword literally, especially if it doesn’t make readable sense, just write naturally.”
Quite an indirect, and ultimately unhelpful answer for someone who isn’t experienced with the nuances of the SEO field. The problem with the answer is the clashing methodology of an older school of thought, and an unbridled set of rules for content-writing in SEO.
At the core of everything, Google wants to know who is providing the most valuable answer for the searchers’ query, and that is indicated by things like the quality and relevance of inbound links, the website’s overall authority in the topic area, and user engagement metrics – not just how many times a target keyword is used on a page.
With machine learning, the relationships and the intent behind the keywords that we use are growing more impactful. Of course, many keywords retain the same meaning over time, but it’s important to understand Google’s increasingly sophisticated understanding of how terms are related to topic and intent. Especially in regard to voice search, just another precursor for the agile world that is Google Search.
Back to Basics
Let’s take a step back to think about, on the most basic level, how a machine understands the context of your page. It does, of course, make sense to include relevant keywords on the page itself. In addition, there are some long-standing best practices that we would recommend to follow, such as including your target keywords in the following places:
- Page Title
- Meta Description
- H1 Heading
- The body of the Page (the opening paragraph would be ideal).
Now, that doesn’t mean that without those placements listed above your pages won’t perform well in Organic Search for your target keyword – and it’s no guarantee that you will perform well in Organic Search with your keyword featured in those places.
So why do we recommend those as best practices?
In search results, the page title and meta description should most certainly indicate to a searcher that your page is relevant to their query, to help entice the click. Once the searcher has arrived on your page, it makes sense to reassure them that they are on the right page by reiterating your target keyword (their query) in the H1 heading, and perhaps also in the opening paragraph.
Additionally, with user engagement likely being utilized by Google (as indicated by their Reasonable Surfer patent) to assist in understanding which pages are satisfying particular queries, it ultimately just makes sense to include your target keyword in places that help a searcher connect to your page.
Now, Let’s Talk About Intent
Let’s try searching for diamond rings. By taking a look at the results, it’s apparent that Google can see the semantic relationship between diamond rings and engagement rings. However, only one result stands out definitively with diamond rings (our initial query):
Kay clearly isn’t using standard best practices to target the keyword ‘diamond rings’. So what are they doing to earn that number 1 spot?
First, being a strong and well-known brand helps. The overall authoritativeness of the Kay Jewelers website and developed expertise in this space have most certainly helped them garner strong, relevant inbound links too. But I truly believe user engagement has played a strong part in their positional success for this particular query.
Engagement rings are what Kay Jewelers are known for; this too could be a factor that Google almost certainly takes into account when building out entities, as highlighted by Bill Slawski from way back in 2013.
In my opinion, this a prime example that Google is thinking beyond the explicit keyword and more about providing the most direct end result they can to help satisfy the end user.
So all of that is fine and dandy if you’re an established brand, but what about the rest of us? Let’s dial it back a bit and take a look at another query.
How about motorcycle helmets?
That’s a high traffic query, surely we’re going to see Harley Davidson in the top spot? I mean, they are known for motorcycles, right?
Oh, wait, that’s not Harley Davidson…I don’t know about you, but I am not familiar with RevZilla. However, “Fast, Free Shipping!” sounds awesome, and placing the target query in the page title, meta description, and even the URL certainly helps to earn my click with this brand I’ve never heard of before. See how that works?
But wait…I don’t see the word motorcycle anywhere once I land on the page…however, it’s pretty clear that I’m in the right place if I’m shopping for motorcycle helmets.
So what makes this page stand out above the rest? Especially against big brands?
How about this section for a start!
A small, but useful video library that helps me answer the three following questions:
- Best Full Face Motorcycle Helmets under $200
- How To Clean and Maintain Your Motorcycle Helmet
- Best Premium Full Face Motorcycle Helmets
Or how about the choices for me to shop by helmet brand, type, shape, new and on sale:
Or how about these different collections of luxury, retro, high profile, or high visibility helmets:
More categories! I can even choose to shop by my riding style:
From a user perspective, I feel absolutely no need to go back to Google Search before exploring at least ONE of these options. They have clearly thought of every type of searcher and provided the ability to browse in a way that is most suitable for the user.
Remember what I said at the beginning of this article? Google wants to know who is providing the most valuable answer for the searchers’ query. I think RevZilla have done a fantastic job of exactly that.
You can see that where they use the target keyword motorcycle helmet, but then they also use related phrases like sportbike helmet, full face, and even laws of motorcycling:
Most importantly, you can see that this page does a good job of answering the intent behind the query, by demonstrating a full understanding that someone looking for a broad term like “motorcycle helmets” (as opposed to a specific helmet) will want to see more options to help narrow down their search.
Instead of just having a page that is hyper-focused on using the keyword ‘motorcycle helmets’ throughout every other paragraph on the page, they have put all of their focus into the user’s experience, because at the end of the day, users are the ones that you are looking to convert for your products, not search engines.
I believe that this page provides fantastic value to the user, and Google knows it. This to me continues to reinforce that there are no strict set of rules to abide by when it comes to target keyword placement, but in this scenario, places a strong emphasis on understanding what someone looking for motorcycle helmets wants to see.
So is keyword research even worth doing?
Absolutely. The key takeaway here is for you to understand the intent behind your target keywords. In order to do that we most certainly need to look under the hood and research synonyms, subtopics, as well as long-tail keywords that people search in relation to your primary topic.
Keyword research has most certainly helped Revzilla to expand their site with more categories, and subcategories that motorcyclists would be interested in. This, in turn, has helped them to build topical authority – since their whole site is about motorcycle gear, it becomes less important to specify “motorcycle helmets” on their helmets page.
Compounding onto your keyword research, understanding the difference between your informational keywords within your topic (the words that people use in the research phase e.g. “best motorcycle helmet”) compared to transactional keywords (e.g. “buy shoei hornet X2 helmet”) will also help you better understand how to craft pages that best address different phases in the buying cycle.
Earlier algorithms of Google Search were not as sophisticated as they are today. In an effort to combat websites that performed spammy on-page tactics, usability became a key component that allowed Google to take back control. While on-page optimization is still part of the algorithm they may not carry as much weight as they once did.
Best practices are still important.
Title tags are still a known ranking factor. Meta descriptions are not, but they help encourage the user to click through (an indirect factor for successful SEO). Not all keywords have high-volume synonyms, and while keyword placement or density on a page isn’t strongly defined, it is most certainly important to ensure that your page content is focused on it.
- Answer your visitor’s next question – Create your pages to answer the questions that your potential customers have. The RevZilla page gave me every possible option on the broad term ‘motorcycle helmets’. Something they almost certainly crafted by performing keyword research.
- Make your content digestible – Now before you tilt from being wary of overwriting your keyword to writing a thesis about it, I would certainly avoid writing walls of text; remember it’s important to provide a great user experience too. Use images, videos, infographics, charts.
- Don’t make your visitors think – You have a few seconds to grab the attention of your visitors, so make sure that you have the right calls to action, and importantly the content they are there to see.
- Ask a friend – If you want to know how well your page may work, try asking a friend or conducting a survey. Sometimes it can be hard for us to see what may be missing, and an outsiders opinion can offer some great insight.
At the end of the day, pages that address the users needs will naturally gain traction because they authentically work, and as time passes, they should garner attention organically having built authority, and trustworthiness as a reliable page. So when I say write naturally, I ultimately mean create naturally. Think about the topic, research and understand the words and ways people search to help evolve your content, and most importantly show your customers that you care by helping them find the answer that they need.